Behind the dainty look of ballerinas, en pointe with perfectly arched feet lies the tales of welts, bruises, or even missing toenails! Are all these truths or simply flights of mythical fantasy?
Credits: Herald Weekly
Technically, does ballet have the potential to “ruin” one’s feet?
In fact, according to a report by Kalter Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, ankle and toe injuries are one of the top career-ending injuries for ballet dancers. Fortunately, such injuries can be prevented or minimized if one takes early precautions.
We also cover a post on why ballet is harder than football. With that, let’s dive right into various injuries that could stem from ballet, before calming ourselves down with ways to prevent such mishaps from striking us!
1a. “Black” toenails
As the name suggests, one’s toenails would appear black or develop a very dark color, such as dark purple or red, due to bleeding of the nail bed underneath. The whole nail might throb with waves of intense pain but after several days, the pain often subsides as recovery accelerates. In worst cases, a part of the bruised nail might come off, making way for the developing nail.
Scores of ballerinas have succumbed to this injury, especially when doing pointe work. This is unsurprising, considering the repeated cramming of the toes into the narrow toe box of pointe shoes. Not forgetting the high amounts of pressure exerted on the tiny toes when standing, jumping, or running on them!
Credits: Tafkah on deviantART
Fortunately, black toenails would simply grow out. If it does not, you need to visit a podiatrist to drain the blood out and introduce some medication to prevent fungal infections.
1b. Prevention of Black Toenails
- Always make it a habit to trim your nails, straight across and not rounded. Nails that are too long could get stuck on the front part of the inside of the shoe, potentially misaligning the nail or injuring the nail bed.
- If you are still growing, expect to change shoes more often if you find that your feet can no longer fit in a particular pair of ballet shoes. Even if your feet have not grown in years, constantly used canvas pointe shoes, satin flats or the like could shrink in size, especially with regular washing. Thus, ensure that your shoe size fits your feet perfectly, such that you can dance safely yet effectively.
- Another preventative approach is to incorporate a different type of pointe toe padding which could provide you with better balance to reduce toe injuries.
- Also, perform core and feet exercises weekly to avoid “sinking” into your pointe shoes. Some ballet dancers tend to knuckle their toes while on pointe to compensate for their poor core or foot strength. Use your core to pull yourself up and out of the shoes, as though you are a puppet being lifted by a string above you.
2a. Achilles tendinopathy
This condition results in pain, stiffness, and swelling of the Achilles tendon, a tendon that joins the calf muscles to the heel bone. Fun fact: this tendon is the largest tendon in our bodies with many responsibilities, from helping us in walking and running to jumping and standing on our tip toes (sounds like ballet in a nutshell).
Although the Achilles tendon can withstand great stresses from different types of lower body movements, it is prone to tendinopathy. The main cause is overuse of the tendon, particularly for ballerinas whose routines involve long jumping sequences during which they might land in the wrong position or roll their ankles.
2b. Prevention of Achilles tendinopathy
If you are new to ballet or perhaps returning after a period of rest, avoid dramatically increasing the intensity of your dance sessions. It is extremely important to recondition your tendons, joints, and muscles as you get into the groove of more frequent training. Any sharp rise in the force applied on the rather fragile Achilles tendon might cause it to wear and tear.
Credits: Harlequin Floors
Some ballerinas might think that wearing high heels on the regular is safe since they are practically on pointé all the time during classes. They would be in for a shock when they find out that this practice is highly discouraged. Having the feet constantly in a tip-toe position would shorten the calf muscles and make the Achilles tendon less flexible, which translates into a higher risk of injury. Therefore, nestling your feet in flatter footwear outside of class is the best way to go.
Furthermore, if you do have this condition but decide to try dancing it away, you actually will not succeed long-term ! In fact, you would be aggravating the injury and slowing down your recovery. The general advice is to rest as much as possible to settle the recovery part of your ballet journey first. The skills and aerobic fitness can always be relearned and regained respectively.
3a. Plantar Fasciitis
One of the most common causes of pain on the bottom of the heel, plantar fasciitis leads to the inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that supports the arch or bottom of the foot.
Besides having a constant pain sensation on the base of the foot, you might have this sensation appearing with the first few steps after sitting up or lying down, before it subsides after several minutes of walking.
Apart from sudden increases in training intensity or frequency like for Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis more easily affects ballerinas whose feet are typically in excessive pronation or supination during pliés, pointe work, chassés or landing jumps. Their feet tissues are unable to develop sufficient integrity to return the feet to a neutral position. Hence, the tissues on the soles would be held on a prolonged, passive stretch which reduces blood flow and ultimately strains the plantar fascia.
3b. Prevention of Plantar Fasciitis
To correct excessive pronation, orthopedic insoles help to prevent your arches from collapsing while dancing. There are also insoles that correct for excessive supination by preventing the ankles from rolling outwards via an equal distribution of pressure across your feet.
Such support of the insoles helps ensure that the complicated machinery of your feet and ankles work optimally, preventing misalignment of the lower limbs from the foot all the way to the spine. In turn, the plantar fasciitis has much fewer chances of being irritated from dancing. Time to glue a pair of insoles into your ballet shoe collection!
As cliché as it sounds, your progress in ballet is like a marathon. We also shared some famous classical male ballet dancers that endured it. There are bound to be injuries, accidents, and other unexpected happenings but true ballerinas focus on the end goal and do not simply give up!
Rather than letting foot injuries mar the whole ballet experience, do commit to lots of rehabilitation footwork, rest, and doctor appointments to check if you are physically fit and healthy enough to perform more strenuous ballet movements. If you know someone dancing hard, you read our best compliments to give a dancer.